The Girls with the Dragon Tattoos

Last summer, I immersed myself in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium universe and loved every minute of it. I wish I could read these books again with that fresh sense of discovery, but alas, this is not possible. Instead, I've been watching the movies and although I know the storyline, there is still a feeling of surprise when you see how they approach the story.

The American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has been in theaters for a while now and I admit I often don't see the point of remakes. What's wrong with the first version? Anyway!. Today is not about a rant, it's about good movies. I've seen both versions now, the the Swedish original and the US remake and as a break from posts about fatigue, disability politics and more fatigue, I thought I'd contrast and compare. And for those of you who haven't read the book(s)or watched the movies, I'll do my best to keep spoilers to a minimum, but it's inevitable that there will be some. If you'd rather be surprised, walk away now and I'll see you on the next post.

Lisbeth Salander. The heroine of the tale, Lisbeth is all angles, both physically and emotionally. She is fierce, fearless and frighteningly intelligent. She is also vulnerable and fragile. In the original, Noomi Rapace created a Lisbeth that encumbers all of these traits and something more. Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth was surprisingly effective given that she was trying to create her own version of the character that already had a pretty definitive interpretation by Rapace. Still, I felt that the American Lisbeth didn't work quite as well. There was something slightly softened about her, more of an emphasis on the vulnerability, almost as if the filmmakers didn't trust the audience to rally behind someone prickly and hard to understand. Also, and this is a minor quibble – Mara was the only actor in the US movie who chose to use a Swedish accent. On one hand, I think it helped set her character apart from the rest, making her seem more strange, on the other hand… This thing drives me crazy. It happens so often in movies where American actors play characters from other countries. When they speak in "their own language," they use an accent. It's ridiculous - we know they're all supposed to be speaking Spanish/German/Swedish/French, so take that leap and just speak English! (Especially because not many actors can do a foreign accent convincingly and then it just becomes distracting)

Mikael Blomkvist. The hero of the story, Mikael is an investigative journalist played by Michael Nyqvist and Daniel Craig respectively. Mikael is an intellectual who is skilled in research and investigation, but although he has served in the Army (Sweden has the draft, all young men go through the Army), he is not comfortable with violence and physicality. I remember reading a review/article somewhere about the movies where the writer mentioned that Daniel Craig's version of the character is less of a "male bimbo." I looked it up and bimbo seems to mean vacuous, stupid, with somewhat loose morals and none of that applies. Both the Swedish and American movie don't shrink away from the character’s active sex life, so that can't be it. Mikael is certainly anything but stupid, so I don't see how that applies, either. In his review of the US movie, Roger Ebert mentions that Nyqvist’s take on the characters seems "less confident, more threatened" and that Daniel Craig "brings along the confidence of James Bond." I do think that Craig does a good job in terms of toning down his usual comfort with danger and violence, but not quite as effectively as Nyqvist. The Swede is more effective at making us see that Mikael is a man who lives in his head and, as most writers, is not naturally comfortable when things get physical.

The Tattoo. Hands down, the Swedish version wins. I tried to find pictures of both, but could only find Mara’s version. Not nearly as badass as Rapace’s.

The Bad Guys. There are numerous bad guys in this series, but the two primary villains in the first book/movie are Lisbeth’s trustee and the killer. The trustee is wonderfully creepy in both movies, but less obviously a slimeball in the Swedish one. One of things I loved about this series is the way it depicts evil (if you will) within ordinary people. The surprise of terrible acts being couched in banality is more of a shock to the system and makes the story more effective and, I think, better reflects reality. The Swedish movie, with the classic Scandinavian understatements and low-key society shake you up more than the American version. In terms of the killer, it's a bit of a toss-up. Stellan Skarsgaard, who I love, dons this character in the US movie and does such a brilliantly creepy and evil job that instinctively, I want to give him the prize. Still, when you remember that most such killers tend to be described as "such a nice, quiet man," the Swedish movie did it better.

The Revenge Scene. I'm not going to get into details, but there is a horrific scene in which Lisbeth is the victim of a sexual assault that is crucial to the story. Equally crucial is her revenge and I wouldn't be surprised if every showing, the women in the audience cheered. Again, although both the US and Swedish versions of these two scenes are very effective, cringe-inducing and visceral, the Swedish wins. It made me cry. It hit me at a much deeper emotional level, triggering a number of very complex emotions - sadness, fear, rage, protectiveness.

The movies overall. After watching all three Swedish movies in the series, I remember telling someone how good they were at showing people thinking. This is really hard to do visually and most movies therefore focus on the action. However, the defining characteristics of our two main characters is crackling intelligence and, in the case of Lisbeth, genius. It is such an important part of the story that their minds almost become characters, as well. In the US version, you get the sense of how smart these people are, too, but more through their actions and research skills. I probably wouldn't have known to have this quibble if I hadn't seen the original, because it was such a unique experience to see that in the movie.

Giving my ratings in each category above, it's probably not surprising that I think the Swedish original comes out ahead. It could be simply because of the Swedish - as I mentioned in my review of the book, "it's so %*&ing Scandinavian.” There is a cultural difference between Sweden and the US and although the American movie does a very, very good job at trying to be Swedish, at the end of the day, it's a costume, not regular clothes. Would I notice if I wasn't born and raised in a Scandinavian country myself? Probably not. Still, I recommend that you watch both movies and do your own comparison. And then come back and tell me what you think!

At the end of the day, that's my bottom line. That I want to talk about the story, the books, the movies - they are all compelling and worth spending time on. It's not often you come across something that makes you think so much and have quite so many opinions and it is a wonderful ride.